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Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China

Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China



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Published by UChicagoPress

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Categories:Books, History, Asia, China
Publish date: Jan 15, 1995
Added to Scribd: Nov 19, 2009
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reservedISBN:9780226167237
List Price: $27.50 Buy Now


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scapegoats reviewed this
This work challenges the orthodoxy of nationalist narratives itself. He argues that nationalism has become too dominant an intellectual force that oversimplifies the narrative and crushes counter narratives that intertwine with it. His work is broken into a theoretical section and then five case studies. Duara takes Chinese scholars to task for delivering history that reinforces national myths. Unlike most other post-colonial societies, the Chinese choose to create a narrative of history that tells a unified story of national struggle against imperialism. Western scholars of China are little better, often viewing Chinese history through a Hegelian teleology that assumes progress toward modern nationalism. Duara argues that nationalism is not a newly arrived force in China. He believes that there was a sense of identity in China long before the 19th century. He also believes that historians have created an unnatural break in their treatment of Chinese history. Historians tend to treat it as the end of one era and the beginning of the next, without realizing the continuities that existed across it. He believes that Anderson’s model for nationalism is not appropriate for China and suggests that it could be less applicable elsewhere because it over-simplified the narrative to the exclusion of all else. The cases studies that Duara provides are interesting in demonstrating the counter-narratives that can be drowned out by nationalist histories. He discusses secret brotherhoods, anti-religious campaigns and attempts at federalism in warlord China. Perhaps the most interesting case study is his examination of the word fengjian, which is usually translated as “feudalism”. He illustrates how the term originally meant local autonomy and was invoked for government without imperial interference, giving it a positive connotation. Many late Qing reformers harkened back to the tradition of fengjian. It was part of China’s public sphere. By the republican period, fengjian had been transformed into the pejorative of feudalism. Duara’s examination of this is both intriguing and perplexing, which is symptomatic of his book. He presents the genealogy of the word as an example of history that was ignored by nationalist histories, yet it fits very nicely into a nationalist framework, with the condemnation of feudalism being a reaction to the Republics inability to control the country and restore national power. Duara does not propose eliminating nationalism from discourse, but he does propose that nationalism should not be the single focal point around which history is constructed. Yet his downplaying of the power of nationalism to support his thesis is occasionally frustrating. His work is powerful and forces the reader to examine the methods of nationalist historians. The moments in which his examples do not fully support his argument are only a minor irritation in this impressive work.
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